Best Covers/Worst Covers – Let’s See Them

After reading the many interesting comments to yesterday’s posts about covers, PG is anxious to see more.

Let’s see your ideas of great covers. And terrible covers.

You can break them down by genre or just point out good covers of whatever type that you think are really good. Ditto for terrible covers.

Please share your opinions on what makes a cover good or bad. You can choose your reasons – stops you immediately when you see it online or anywhere else . . . . is great for the book’s genre . . . . is absolutely beautiful and reflects excellent taste by the person who selected/created/commissioned the cover, is absolutely disgusting, misleading to readers, is an unfair knock-off of someone else’s work, etc., etc., etc.

If you want to include a copy of the cover in your comment, go for it. You can also provide a link to the book on the author’s website, Amazon, or wherever else will allow visitors to TPV to see it. PG may try to drop some cover images into the comment or include them in a post.

24 thoughts on “Best Covers/Worst Covers – Let’s See Them”

  1. If you’re really feeling adventurous, try Cover Snark. Which is NSFW because you simply will not be able to either stop laughing or get back to anything productive for the rest of the day.

    • They have her posture looking kind of droopy. I do like the general concept of picturing her with her skellytum, though, and wouldn’t have minded that concept translated to an American edition. Is this the French cover? They draw Miles in such an odd way on the French covers.

      • She wasn’t in a good place in the story, so her posture fits. And the skellytum looks wilted, like her life. As she put it “I have come to the end of me.” Storywise, she had to hit rock bottom before discovering herself, much as Miles did in the previous story, MEMORY. The three stories (plus WINTER FAIRE GIFTS, as the epilogue) are really chapters of a unified story of Miles finally growing up. Considering he’s 30, it was about time. 🙂

        And yes, a photorealistic version of that cover would be just about perfect for the book, what with the city dome and damaged soletta in the background.

        And if you think the french covers are odd, how about the japanese ones?

        https://www.tor.com/2017/01/23/fanzines-cover-art-and-the-best-vorkosigan-planet-an-interview-with-lois-mcmaster-bujold/

        They’re interesting, especially the vehicles, but…odd…
        Ekaterin in white? I looked it up but the japanese mourning color is black. White is in India.
        And Miles’ clothes look good but orange instead of brown? They got so much right, including the postures, but missed with the clothes?

  2. “I also think if you’re going to use stock art and the model does not match your character’s description, you should learn the Photoshop techniques of coloring hair / eyes at least. I even learned those, it’s literally a 5-minute lesson. Readers do notice and care; I remember fans rejoicing that the actress who played “Jessie” in “Queen of the Damned” was a redhead. I gather she was a redhead in the book.”

    It’s not just stock art.
    A lot of artists tend to go with whatever they feel like and tradpub just shruggs it off. Classic example:

    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/03/92/c0/0392c0501a1c91efbc3830054d3bf7c2.jpg

    Telzey Amberdon is a recurring protagonist in James H. Schmitz adventure SF stories set in THE FEDERATION OF THE HUB. She is clearly described as a brunette and a teenager, fifteen years old and a first year law student. That is not what tbe cover sells.

    The more recent BAEN rendition does a slightly better job, albeit by pushing her to the background and making her look adult.

    Protagonist misrepresentation is all over even among the better publishers.

    • Try this one from Lois McMaster Bujold’s delightful A CIVIL CAMPAIGN:

      https://www.amazon.com/Civil-Campaign-Lois-McMaster-Bujold/dp/0671578855

      It would take an entire page to list everything that is wrong in that cover:
      – Ekaterin is a *tall* slender brunnette. Emphasis on tall. Miles has a thing about tall beautiful women.
      – Miles himself is (generously) 4 ft 11 in and suffers from a prebirth exposure to poison gas, which he makes sure everybody knows so they won’t think he is a mutant.
      – If that were Miles, he would be in *brown* and silver, the colors of his aristocratic House. The bystanders would be in assorted combinations according to their family colors. Pity the family stuck with orange and yellow (not gold).
      – The architecture of the background buildings should be low and *stone” based. Maybe some concrete.
      – The characters in the cover *might* be Miles’ cousin Ivan and childhood friend Kareen but they would be dancing together as Delia has her own target. And he ain’t tall and thin either. 😉 And it can’t be his foster brother Gregor and *his* “squeeze” because she is also a brunnette. And decidedly “zaftig”.
      The list goes on and on…

      What makes this one particular bad is that it is vol 14 (depending on how you count) in a long running, highly acclaimed, top selling series featuring Miles Vorkossigan and family. And the book was a finalist for the 2000 Hugo Award for Best Novel, the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 2000 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. And they still coukdn’t be bothered to do the cover right.

      • The artist still quite obviously never read any Vorkosigan book, much less this one. “But, but, but – I was told it is a romance, so I drew it that way!”

        Match to book, or match to a “genre” – which? For mixed books like this, it really is a difficult conundrum.

        That’s for the dead tree versions, though. Take a look at the Kindle version – that cover is a fantastic match for the contents of the book. But likely to be offputting to the casual browser who is not already familiar with the Saga.

    • To be fair to BAEN, one time they got the initial release cover exactly right and got so violently attacked (by folks who hadn’t read the book or even a review) that they had to slip in a generic “flying car over a futuristic city” image instead of this scene that accurately represents the story:

      https://th.bing.com/th/id/OIP.RzjKTAJABV6n4RPyyNOeZwHaLL?dpr=1.5&pid=ImgDetMain

      Which just happens to perfectly capture the personalities of the three main protagonists.

      They’ve since had to try a few other covers, each with its own issues.

      Sometimes you just can’t win.

      (Oh, and the book is a delight.)

    • Before you said it was Telzey, I would have guessed the cover in your link was referring to Trigger Argee, and thought it was pretty accurate. In one of her adventures with her on-again, off-again husband she was obliged to wear a skimpy outfit described similarly to the one on the cover (although for some reason I thought it was green, not red, nice excuse for a re-read). If that’s supposed to be Telzey then *shudder.*

      But as for the newer Baen covers — the first one with the girl and the cat has Telzey looking more like a teenager, which works. And I thought the second one with the catsuit and the raygun showed Trigger. Which would make sense, since in the second anthology the two of them are pairing up for a few stories. Those covers convey the characters / story very well, and don’t mislead the reader.

      Now, the Bujold covers! I never saw the original cover for Vorpatril’s Alliance, but boy does it fit! I have the one with the generic flying car, which did not convey anything in the story. As for A Civil Campaign, I always assumed the couple was Gregor and Laisa, and that maybe she slimmed down, as women are wont to do for their weddings. She probably should have been wearing a veil to make this clearer, but Gregor is wearing the correct colors.

      Oh, and those colors are doing the heavy lifting here, because they were my first clue that I had pictured Gregor all wrong. I came into the series sideways, and initially believed Gregor was a rather saucy old man. It never occurred to me he was a young emperor; I had pictured him looking more like the “Most Interesting Man in the World” actor. The cover prompted me to start the series from the beginning.

      • I’ll have to check but I’m pretty Laisa is a brunette and if she slimmed down Gregor would divorce her. One of the ongoing plot points is that “Team Koudelka” are all blondes, taking after their mom. Barayar leans heavy towards dark hair.

        As to Gregor he is only a couple years older than Miles so mid-thirties by the time of A CIVIL CAMPAIGN. I guess the colors are right for Gregor but he really doesn’t factor much in the actual story so it never crossed my mind it might be him with the blonde.

        Now the Omnibus cover that includes both KOMARR and A CIVIL CAMPAIGN gets Ekaterin right and Miles mostly right if we assume the missing height difference is a trick of persective:

        https://th.bing.com/th/id/OIP.M1KwCvSje6QnIzuGuBozngHaJ4?dpr=1.5&pid=ImgDetMain

        In the Hub books Trigger plays games with hair color, as is her right, but she reportedly baselines as a redhead. The cover shows a mane lion so, yes, it’s meant to be Telzey. (Like, huh?!) It’s a major plot point that she’s a prodigy. When the psi cop chief is asked why he didn’t draft her, which he can, he replies that he doesn’t have to. She enjoyed the adventure so he’s sure she’ll join on her own *when she’s older*. Which means if she were as old as Freas drew her she would be drafted right there and then. Which would limit story options for Schmidt. 😉

  3. I think I once hurt an author’s feelings when I explained why his cover seemed “off” but I’m going to repeat it here: Your busty Rambo-ette should wear a proper support garment. I mean, if she’s showing underboob she’s going to give a lot of women psychosomatic pain at the thought of literally running and bouncing about without support. If she’s supposed to be doing action-heroine type stuff in the jungle then she needs a good sports bra. Or at least something like Xena, Gabrielle, and the Amazons would wear!

    FYI, this is different from a Frazetta / Vallejo / Julie Bell style of art where the naked damsel does not appear to be engaged in strenuous activity. Even Vallejo’s tribute to Julie Strain at least opted for an extra string on the bikini top (where Strain is in a science-fantasy Rambo-ette pose).

    I also think if you’re going to use stock art and the model does not match your character’s description, you should learn the Photoshop techniques of coloring hair / eyes at least. I even learned those, it’s literally a 5-minute lesson. Readers do notice and care; I remember fans rejoicing that the actress who played “Jessie” in “Queen of the Damned” was a redhead. I gather she was a redhead in the book.

    No seriously, readers notice: in the lead-up to the premiere of the”Vampire Diaries” all of the fans noted that if the books did a tie-in cover everyone was going to be confused. Why? Because Elena is repeatedly described as blonde with “lapis lazuli” eyes. Whereas Nina Dobrev resembles Meredith’s description. I’d already read the books before the TV show, so I was confused in the opposite direction: Bonnie was cast as a black girl when she was supposed to be a redheaded Scottish descendent of Druids. Later I found out that Hollywood has a thing where redheaded characters are cast as black; I have no idea what’s up with that***. I remember the Larbelestier saga so I’ll throw in that one for good measure: let the character match the description! At least close to it!

    Also, this may be a generational thing, but if you use CGI art on your cover, I will think you’re doing an isekai (portal fantasy where people are trapped in MMORPGs). Specifically, I think of the cartoon series “ReBoot” that I caught after school back in the day. Note the trailer / still photos. Isekai is what that style of art signals to me, so if your characters looks clunky like that, proceed with caution. Or maybe just learn how to do Midjourney or its competitors.

    ***It’s creepy, and happens too often to be just random coincidence.

    • For the “Ramboette” cover – what is the target market? If the demographic is heavily tilted to the XY reading demographic – well, most of that subset is not familiar with the issues of female support, and will not blink an eye.

      Although, producers of this kind of art have traditionally not paid attention to the harsh realities of anatomy, no matter the gender. In my college days, also the heyday of magazines like Heavy Metal, the future wife got quite a chuckle when she complained about the completely unsupported upper anatomy of the female characters – and I counter-complained about the completely unsupported (and unprotected) lower anatomy of the male characters. Who were invariably drawn so that said anatomy was a very large target.

      • Let’s not forget anatomically dubious posing, either. Ask Jim Hines about it (and do click through to the other posts — but put that beverage down first unless you’re looking for an excuse to buy a new keyboard). It’s not just about “sexism,” however much a real problem that is.

        The assumptions built into what appeals for the purpose of generating random-reader interest for books “heavily tilted to the XY reading demographic” are rather dubious — and the publishing industries have gotten that wrong, continuously and repeatedly, since the 1960s. That is, there’s a disconnect between what the art directors think would appeal for that purpose, and what might actually appeal for that purpose — and because commercial publishing has ardently refused to ever test its received wisdom about covers for half a century,† it’s about doctrine and not reality.

        † “Green covers don’t sell” (heard at a cover meeting in the late 1990s from a director of sales and marketing regarding a book whose subject-matter pointed heavily toward a green-dominant cover) (and heard repeatedly elsewhere). In no particular order:
        • Leather-covered covers essentially stopped for trade books in the 1940s, and the potentially poisonous arsenic compounds used to tint leather green were largely discontinued half a century before that. (What that says about the “accepted standard” of green covers on legal treatises, pretty much regardless of language, is better left for another time.)
        • Organic dye chemistry advances by the early 1960s, together with increased use of varnishes and protective films, meant that green printing on covers (whether self-bound as in trade paperbacks, or for dust jackets) no longer began an immediate fade when exposed to natural light.
        • Both “daylight” and “white” fluorescent lighting spectra changed in the early 1970s so that the reflective index of green surfaces (490-570nm) was no longer suppressed, as it was for early-1960s tube lighting as an accident of plasma activation energies and gas chemistry. Almost simultaneously, subtle changes in film transparency (slide) chemistry corrected for a historical undersaturation in the 530-600nm range, meaning that less-bluish greens and some yellows seemed more realistic (better match to memories of direct vision) for photographic cover images.
        • The fashion industry stopped rejecting earthtones (greens and browns) on a not-so-subtle class basis because greens and browns no longer fully symbolized “unwashed working-class masses.”

      • In fairness, it never crossed my mind that the book is for men only 🙂 It probably was 🙂

        Your Heavy Metal reference reminds me of one of my favorite YouTube videos, where someone named Shad (Shadiversity) takes a look at “bewb armor” to see if it would actually work. It’s such a trope that I don’t even notice it, but the barely-functional bikini top for a woman who is supposed to be doing Action Girl stuff on Planet Earth just strained my willing suspension of disbelief 😀

          • They have a bunch of funny shorts.
            The newbie scam is hilarious.
            They compiled most of the armor gags into a single 15 min video. What adds to the meta humor is the garlic vendor NPC is self aware and knows he’s in a hardwired game so he knows what’s coming.

            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eHhgUC01qK8

            They did a sad one where the game got updated to give him a wife and kid and it got buggy so they rolled it back, but he remembered.

            They spoof a lot of games and genres but always end back with RPGs; no limit to the gags there. Plus they already have the sets and costumes… 😉

  4. Do not, do not, do not misrepresent the content of a book — perhaps especially in subareas like “military science fiction” — with an image on the cover that is entirely noncredible. For example, if a military science-fiction novel is about space navies, and all of the action takes place on the flagship (for one series I’m thinking of, the two main character literally never leave that flagship at any time during the first six books in the series), don’t put a “Space-Marine Rambo” on the cover as the (essentially) sole image. Do not lather, rinse, and repeat for the next four books in the series, either.

    For those books that have central characters with distinctive physical features, don’t misrepresent those features on the cover. Don’t make the heroine veryveryvery Caucasian when she’s a mixed-race girl with dark, tightly-curly hair (right, Ms Larbalestier, whom I feel free to invoke specifically because she wrote about the problem at length). However iconic the original Michael Whelan cover paintings for Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels were, the dragons are completely misrepresented in proportion and otherwise, whether based upon the text or basic biology (not to mention aerodynamics, implied thrust/weight ratios, etc.).

    If you’re going to show a character in the act of shooting a handgun, and the text of the book indicates that the character has any competence with said firearm at all, don’t use showy poses with locked elbows and off-vertical weapons and fingers near the ejection port.

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